Land, Conflict, and Peace: New Book Explores the Role of Land in Conflict and Peacebuilding

(Washington, DC and Geneva) — A new book analyzing how disputes over land resources incite conflict, while effective management of land can also promote peacebuilding and support development in conflict-affected countries and territories, was released today by the Environmental Law Institute (ELI), the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the University of Tokyo, and McGill University.

Land and Post-Conflict Peacebuilding is the third book in a six-volume series addressing the challenges and opportunities of managing natural resources for post-conflict peacebuilding around the world. The newly released book explores the challenges of land management arising before, during, and after violent conflict, examining how land and property rights create opportunities to resolve conflict and lay the foundation for a long-term peace.

This set of case studies, edited by Jon Unruh, a professor of geography at McGill University in Montreal, Canada, and Rhodri C. Williams, a human rights attorney specializing in land and forced-migration, combines the expertise, academic study, and field experience of 25 experts in land management and post-conflict peacebuilding from around the world. The publication documents experiences from 17 countries, including Afghanistan, Angola, Bosnia, Burundi, Tajikistan and Timor-Leste.

“Land tenure security is one of the most complex challenges facing fragile states today,” said Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary General and UNEP Executive Director. “Environmental sustainability, conflict, and food security are all affected by land tenure and also impact land tenure itself, which is why this book is both opportune and relevant.”

This book explores the history of land and conflict, and draws upon these experiences to expand current understanding of land-based conflict and develop better practices for future peacebuilding. “From the 1990s onward, post-conflict land issues were typically thought of entirely in terms of ethnic conflict and political control of territory,” said Williams. “While these concerns are frequently still relevant, the chapters in this book demonstrate how the lessons of the 1990s are being adapted to new scenarios involving factors such as rising global food prices, in which the economic value of land has become a new primary driver of grievances and conflict.”

“This fascinating set of case studies and power syntheses return again and again to the one overarching truth about land and peacebuilding: complexity,” noted Jeffrey Sachs, Director of the Earth Institute and Special Advisor to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on the Millennium Development Goals. “There are no off-the-shelf answers to questions of property restitution, redistribution of claims, individual versus community needs, evidence and titling, legal versus social norms, or competing legal systems that might apply.”

“Resolving disputes over land as an element of peacebuilding is both essential and exceedingly complex due to a host of other issues that are linked to land ownership and land-based conflict, including political, cultural, religious and economic factors, among others,” said ELI President John C. Cruden.

Despite challenges in resolving land disputes in the immediate aftermath of conflict, there are opportunities to use land and other natural resources to help address broader issues of conflict and promote peacebuilding. “While the role of land and land rights in the cause, conduct, and resolution of armed conflict are now widely appreciated, what has been lacking is a set of experienced-based technical approaches to moving forward in a peace process,” said Unruh. “The varied experiences in the cases presented in this book move us substantially forward in developing usable tools for dealing effectively with the diversity of land rights problems after conflict.”

The book focuses on 4 themes: (1) Peace Negotiations; (2) Response to Displacement and Dispossession; (3) Land Management; and (4) Laws and Policies. The completed publication was funded by the Government of Finland, USAID, the European Union, the Center for Global Partnership of the Japan Foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, and the Compton Foundation.

The other books in the series published by Earthscan address high-value natural resources (published October 2011); assessment and restoration of natural resources (published October 2012); water (forthcoming); resources for livelihoods (forthcoming); and resource governance (forthcoming).

Notes to Editors:

The Environmental Law Institute is an independent, non-profit research and educational organization based in Washington, DC. For further information, please contact Brett Kitchen at +1.202.939.3833 or

The United Nations Environment Programme is the voice for the environment in the United Nations system. For media enquiries, please contact the UNEP Newsdesk in Nairobi, Kenya, at +254.20.762.5022 or

Copies of the book may be purchased at

More information on the book is available at